Beyond Day Six
My sometimes-daily blog of a photograph or two with a few words, celebrating all the days of life that flow through creation into perspiration, inspiration, reflection, sabbath, and resurrection.
Can Hope Be Ruined?
I did not want to be standing in the chilly spring drizzle. But there I was. Waiting, praying. What was I, a young pastor, going to say to family members who would soon pass by, and see the first responders huddled in their mother's driveway?
Moments earlier I had been helping a group of volunteers wallpaper the parsonage kitchen. But our project was interrupted by an urgent call about one of my parishioners.
It was the days of double-digit inflation with a dizzying escalation of interest rates. Rising interest rates are fine if you are an investor, but debilitating and devastating if you borrow. Virginia had to borrow. Her husband had died the year before and left her with a farm whose major crop was bank payments. The previous fall had been the wettest in decades and the fields were too muddy to harvest, so the over-borrowed and under-priced crops bowed soggy along the country roads all through Christmas into February. In the cold gray rain, the fields were full of ruined hope.
And now, in the spring, when farmers usually decided what to plant and how much more to borrow, Virginia had made another decision. What in the world had made her think death was better than life?
Amidst the familiar passages for Palm Sunday are these jarring portions from Psalm 31: "Have mercy on me, Lord, because I'm depressed. My vision fails because of grief... My life is consumed with sadness..." (CEB) The words are jarring only because our image of this Sunday is colored by a parade of children waving palm leaves. However, don't these ancient words express a too-common experience, especially during these past two years?
The events of Holy Week can appear to be ruined hope. But that's true only if you leave early, before the ending. So here we are at the edge of expectation.
In death--life. In sin--mercy. And in the cold and gray, there is still hope in joyous resurrection.
I Imagined Being an Athlete
A friend asked after reading about my granddaughter's softball activity if I had played on a school team. No, but I had imagined being an athlete. I wanted to be a catcher. I used my paper-route money to buy a catcher's glove, which I still have. But I never played on any organized team. We would play after school, although we never had enough players so we would take turns batting and fielding. I wasn't proficient at either.
We played basketball at the outside courts and would scoop off the snow so we could shoot around. But again, I wasn't good at shooting or dribbling. I imagined being a scuba diver. I again bought a snorkel, and a mask, and fins with money from my paper route. But I couldn't swim. I didn't learn to swim beyond floating until I was a freshman in college. Admittedly, I have had an active adulthood with cycling and swimming and regular workouts at a gym.
Still, I marvel at a granddaughter who excels in a sport. I enjoy watching her play. I celebrate her skills, batting and fielding. I'm proud that she encourages her teammates, and that she is developing leadership skills. And I'm grateful for her parents who have supported her in so many ways and spent so many hours watching her sit on the bench when she was younger. My granddaughter imagines some athletic accomplishments too, but she's a lot closer to achieving her goals than her grandfather when he was a kid. She's an athlete.
This image is of a very worn, ancient ball glove at the Tennessee State Museum.
The blooming season in our yard, if you don't count the hellebores, begins in March. But the number of blooming plants increases as April nears. We have three different kinds of jonquils in thirty different bunches scattered in the front and back yards. This particular variety, which I do not know the name, is the last one to bloom. Most of the others are still blooming. The tulips are blooming, as are the bleeding hearts, virginia bluebells, and phlox. Columbine will bloom Thursday or Friday. Azaleas are already showing the color of their blossoms. Bring it on! April provides the beginning of the show!
This photo, and many more to come, is the reason I bought a small compact camera that is smaller than my iPhone in length and width. The telescoping zoom lens fits easily in the 2-inch square opening of the chain link fence that surrounds the softball field. Additionally, the camera can take 20 photos per second or video as well. Maddy, our granddaughter, has been playing softball for half of her life. She loves it and plays well. So, several times per week, we drive twenty-five minutes to her high school to watch Maddy and her team-mates play fast-pitch softball. And I am so thankful for the opportunity to sit on the sidelines and cheer her on! One thing about this picture is that the catcher who plays for another high school is a friend of Maddy's because they played on the same travel team for several years. There was lots of chatter between the two girls as Maddy batted. And although Maddy has 8 stolen bases on the season, she didn't try to steal on K.K. because nobody steals on her. Although Maddy's team lost, they played very well. Maddy had a single and a double. Our spring is active because of her! Life is truly good!
Yesterday, we were in the building. Only the second time since March 1,2020. Worship in the sanctuary is not like worship online, although we have appreciated the cyber connection these past 25 months. The pandemic and my recovery from two cancer treatments prevented our usual worship. And as a preacher who loves good sermons, often not my own, I have to say the music is the reason to be physically in the building. Belmont United Methodist Church has outstanding music. Yesterday was a prime example: clarinet duet, amazing vocal solos, chancel choir, youth choir, bell choir, and organist all provided musical selections. I wept as I sang the hymns. I treasured every note. No doubt, it's the music.
In the Moment
Can you picture fragrance? Can a camera capture bouquet? Can a painter express aroma? Can a writer describe a smell so vividly that your nose begins to agree with words?
The gospel lesson for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, John 12:1-8, opens with a celebratory feast. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus host Jesus for a meal of gratitude. Apparently, the reason for the gathering was to honor Jesus who had raised Lazarus from the dead. I can't imagine anything that would exceed the joy of this family having their brother come back to life. We know grief and sorrow. We have stood in the cemetery to remember dear friends and beloved family members. So, to have all that reversed by resurrection is startling joy. Mary performs the traditional welcome for a guest by cleaning the traveler's dusty feet. Here she goes further by using expensive nard to anoint the feet of Jesus and to wipe his feet with her hair. The passage notes that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Can you smell it?
And Judas spoils the moment of welcome with a rude outburst. Judas was a guest in the house and complains that this perfume that Mary used on the feet of Jesus was worth a year's wages of a laborer. Was that an exaggeration? That's incredibly expensive perfume. What in the world must that fragrance smell like? And Judas insults them all by saying it was wasteful to anoint Jesus in this happy moment. Or was Judas just acting out all of his deep-seated objections to the direction of the mission of Jesus and couching it in the words of charity? I hear a message of shame that stinks up the gathering. I want to sit at that table in that fragrant room and ponder what is about to happen, caught between the joy of the host family and the foreboding of the coming betrayal by Judas. I think this scene captures much of our meditation during Lent.
Yesterday, the last day of March, the blossoms on our dogwood trees began to open. On this first day of April, the signs of spring are abundant in our yard. The redbud trees are in full bloom, the cherry tree and spirea add white blossoms in our backyard, and the jonquils and tulips have been blooming for more than ten days. But I consider the dogwoods as announcing the arrival of truly warmer days. And I am eager for warmth and color.
Last month's CT scan and bloodwork are still clear of any evidence of cancer. I have lost more than 40 pounds in the last 7 months. During the past month, we have been thrilled to have three couples as overnight guests in our home, a joy we had so missed during the pandemic. Gathering all these in my heart, I celebrate the promise of April for health and life and joy. How I long for the promise to be granted throughout the world!
The March to Spring
How can the shortest month seem so long? Even with the celebration of my birthday and the romance of Valentines, the 28 days of wintry February feels interminable! But spring shows up during the month of March. Goodbye winter and hello to spring! I am more than ready to be embraced by warmth.
This plant was added a few years ago to Judy's garden. But it's not a predictor of spring because it blooms in the winter. Hellebores, also called Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose, are evergreen, perennial flowers. And, no, they are not related to roses. Nevertheless, on the coldest days this past month, these blossoms gave me hope that someday spring would be on its way.
Light Never Surrenders to Darkness
January 6. Epiphany. 12th day of Christmas. Celebrating light. Of course, a photographer finds excitement in this day.
The hymn writer Brian Wren expressed his enthusiasm with the following words:
"The dancing air shall glow with light, and sun and moon give up their place,
when love shines out of every face, our good, our glory, and delight."
Carl P. Daw, Jr wrote this lyric to one of his hymns:
"O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayer and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love, delivered from our selfish schemes,
May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release,
till by God's grace our warring world shall see Christ's promised reign of peace."
Epiphany is a day of light, and wonder, and hope, and promise. Last year, as I "zoomed" with my ministry colleagues in Illinois and Wisconsin, I was filled with bright enthusiasm on January 6. But, as we all remember the events at the US Capitol, the day turned dark. I have enough experience and training with group dynamics to fearfully predict that this loud crowd could become an out-of-control mob that threatened our Constitutional processes. As I watched the events on live television of a mob assaulting police officers and breaking windows and threatening members of Congress, I was horrified. I was watching a nightmare.
January 6 was not the only dark day of 2021. I had my own. Many others throughout the year experienced grief, sorrow, fear.
Darkness does not speak the final word. The smallest glimmer of light chases the dark away. I am a person of faith who believes in Light. Epiphany is the rehearsal every year of the conviction that God has entered our human history in Christ Jesus with the intention to save us all. Darkness never conquers Light. Never.
So, after the twelfth day of Christmas, we take down our decorations. I want to leave them up. I want to continue the celebration.
Another hymn I love was composed by Kathleen Thompson: "I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. God set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus. (chorus) In him there is no darkness at all. The night and day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus."
The adventure on New Year's Day began with sharp knives and lots of chopping.
Four heads of cabbage, giant carrots, celery, onions, bean thread vermicelli, and three pounds of pork sausage mixed in a large bowl.
Seasoned and mixed in a gigantic bowl.
Then a small portion is spooned out on a square of spring roll pastry, and the pastry is folded to seal the ends, and becomes the roll. I think it takes lots of practice to create consistently sized, snug spring rolls.
Ready for frying in hot oil. We brought home 16 cooked, 48 uncooked, and about a pound of filling. Grateful for our neighbor's willingness to teach us how to create fabulous spring rolls.
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